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Keynote speakers talk diversity and careers at APALSA conference

February 01, 2016

Su Ming Yeh L’04 and Sandra Leung served as the keynote speakers for the 15th annual Penn Law Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) conference, “Amplify-Promoting Diversity in a Time of Progress.”

By Maria Biery C’18

On January 30, the Penn Law Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) held their 15th annual conference, “Amplify-Promoting Diversity in a Time of Progress,” where law students heard distinguished speakers talk about ways to enhance their careers and promote diversity.

The keynote speaker for the event’s lunchtime session was Penn Law alumna Su Ming Yeh L’04. Yeh is a Staff Attorney for Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, where she takes on cases for prisoners that range from immigration to sexual assault disputes. In the past, Yeh volunteered with the U.S. Peace Corps, was Executive Director of the Asian Professional Extension, and was the Deputy Director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. The keynote for the dinner session was Sandra Leung, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Bristol-Myers Squibb.

During her speech, Yeh spoke about the work she does, the discrimination that she and her family have experienced, and the ways for other Asian American professionals to get involved with APALSA and fight discrimination. She also spoke on how her experiences have helped her and taught her lessons in her career.

“My work is not without its challenges,” said Yeh, “but my personal dealings with adversity help me even when we lose and see the silver lining.”

During her talk, Yeh spoke of one of her “personal dealings with adversity.” When she was in the Peace Corps, Yeh remembered, “some children started pointing and laughing at me.” In their native language, the children were calling her Japanese.

“Obviously that made me feel incredibly self-conscious,” said Yeh, “and it wasn’t just that they were pointing at me and calling me something, but they were also giggling and laughing as if I was something strange or unusual, and maybe I was but it didn’t make me feel that great.”

Yeh says she has never felt that kind of discrimination in Pennsylvania, but there are times when she is the “unusual person in the room.” Her field of law is “male-dominated,” she noted, and there are very many times where she is “the only woman in the room.” Also, she added, she is “often the only person of color or of Asian descent on the team.” According to Yeh, public interest law has very few Asian-Americans.

Yeh encouraged Penn Law’s Asian-American students join APALSA. “It’s a wonderful community,” she said. “Our Pennsylvania affiliate is warm and supportive of each other.”

“We’d love to have you join us,” she added.

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